The Happiest Bar on Earth?

Disneyland's private cocktail bar, Club 33, has a 20-year wait list and costs $25,000 to join, plus $10,000 in yearly dues. Is it worth it?

When the Star Wars–inspired Oga’s Cantina opened in Disneyland in May of this year, it was advertised as the first location in the Anaheim, California theme park to serve alcohol. Fifty-two years earlier, however, in May of 1967, a private club quietly opened on the park’s New Orleans Square.

Club 33 was conceived as a space for Walt Disney, the park’s founder, to host corporate VIPs from Coca-Cola and Kodak, among other brands; by the 1970s, private individuals were granted memberships as well. Today, its existence is an open secret, yet few have ever seen the inside—membership initiation starts somewhere around $25,000, with $10,000 owed annually in dues. The waiting list to join the estimated 500 existing members hovers near 20 years.

Who are these people, and why are they paying such a princely sum to drink well-aged Scotch in a theme park surrounded by man-children in mouse ears?

“Most members have a high affection for Walt Disney himself, and the history of his company and original theme park,” says Jessica Sanders, who runs The Happiest Blog on Earth, a Disney fan website that offers travel tips. While Club 33 was once the domain of Southern California’s business elite—a 1984 Orange Coast Magazine article claimed “most people who visit here come from business meetings”—today, the clientele extends to a broader demographic.

“Many people make sacrifices to afford their membership,” explains Sanders. “[Others] have money to burn, but still hold a deep reverence for Walt Disney.” Despite the high fees to simply be allowed to eat and drink in the club, the fringe benefits—park passes, VIP tours, FastPasses, concierge services—make it worthwhile for many hardcore Disney fanatics.

At its founding in the late ’60s, Club 33 is where Walt Disney himself intended to drink. Disney had always wanted his park to be a family-friendly, teetotaling attraction, but being a drinker himself (he usually fixed himself a daily Scotch and soda at 5 p.m. sharp), he needed a covert bar on the property.

A six-minute walk from the Main Street, U.S.A., park entrance, and located southwest of Sleeping Beauty’s castle, Club 33 was originally accessed via an ornate door on 33 Royal Street. (It’s been said that an address was necessary to obtain the park’s only liquor license.) The club was built next to the 500-square-foot Victorian-style apartment Walt Disney kept for himself on the property. Today, access is granted via a speakeasy-like buzzer system at the bar’s new entrance in the nearby Court of Angels, a formerly public courtyard that had been a “fan favorite” spot for visitors.

Who are these people, and why are they paying such a princely sum to drink well-aged Scotch in a theme park surrounded by man-children in mouse ears?

“I was experiencing another secret part of Disneyland, one that others don’t see often,” explains Sanders, who has been to Club 33 twice as a guest. “It’s similar to how Disney fanatics almost want an attraction to break down so they can be escorted off, say, Space Mountain and see it with the lights on. Anything that a normal guest can’t see or do, we want access to it.”

Of course, much of Club 33 is visible on Google Maps and the countless Instagram posts that pull back the curtain on a lot of the second-floor club. The space consists of two dining rooms: Le Grand Salon, which a Club 33 member’s unaccompanied guest is allowed to visit, and a more exclusive “jazz” lounge, Le Salon Nouveau, which only platinum and executive members are entitled to enter, via a decadent hallway that doubles as a wine cellar. While an unauthorized YouTube video tour offers a closer look at the food offerings, one element remains largely undocumented: the drinks.

Sommelier and beverage director Matt Ellingson, who has worked at Disney’s most high-end restaurants since 2008, runs the club’s beverage program. Although he declined to speak on specifics for this story, he keeps an active Instagram account, spotlighting what he’s currently pouring, like a 1984 Château d’Yquem, local beers like Beachwood Blendery’s lambic-style wild ale, and what he calls “1,000 years of age shimmering behind a glass door,” otherwise known as Le Salon Nouveau’s spirits selection, which includes status icons like Pappy Van Winkle, Macallan in Lalique, and Japanese whisky.

Back in 2016, one Club 33 member started an anonymous Instagram account, @disneyland33member, through which he shared a few of the biggest-ticket whiskey pours available, most notably a 50-year-old Balvenie (which costs $2,500 per ounce), an extremely rare bottle of Johnnie Walker The John Walker (there are only two bottles in the U.S.) and a $4,000 Scotch presented in a Baccarat crystal decanter with a 24 carat gold–plated neck. (Members do have to pay for their drinks.)

It’s a spirits selection as good as—if not better than—several top bars across the country. But in the land of Mickey Bars and Dole Whip, are the cocktails any good?

“It’s a top-quality cocktail program and if it were a normal space, I highly believe it would be on the 50 Best Bars list,” says Pamela Wiznitzer, a New York–based bartender who visited Club 33 in 2017. She’s effusive in her praise of the experience. “They make every style of cocktail, beautifully executed classics and completely innovative originals. There’s an incredible thoughtfulness behind each and every drink,” says Wiznitzer, who had an Absinthe Suissesse during her visit.

Alongside classics like the Vieux Carré and the Ramos Gin Fizz, and house creations like the Yacht Bar Sour—an intriguing gewürztraminer juice–based drink—the menu typically includes a few rotating tiki drinks served in vessels custom-made for the club, including glassware from noted tiki artist Brian Rechenmacher and mugs shaped like Haunted Mansion busts. 

But the membership does have its limits, especially for those who are indiscreet. In 2015, Joseph Cosgrove, an 84-year-old who had been a member since 1979, was kicked out of the club after continually giving away his daily guest tickets to strangers, 3,600 in one year alone. As David Koenig, author of The People v. Disneyland, explains: “I know a lot of people liked him personally, but the typical Club 33 member wants a more private, exclusive dining experience, and it was turning into Chili’s.”

The comparison is apt, given that Club 33 is no longer a singular experience. Private Disney drinking clubs have started sprouting new locations the world over. A 10-minute walk away, in Disney California Adventure, there’s 1901 Lounge—a more intimate, library-like, members-only space—and, back in Disneyland, 21 Royal, an exclusive lounge that can be booked by private groups for $15,000 a night, where Ellington also runs the beverage program. Similar private clubs are now at Tokyo Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland and a Club 33 is slated for Orlando’s Walt Disney World, with memberships currently being “evaluated.”

Even if, by now, everybody knows about Club 33, many think you still have to visit to really believe it. “Whenever I think about it,” says Wiznitzer, “it makes me a little sad that most people will never get to experience such a truly great bar.”

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